Cooking, Family, Lifestyle

How my Polish roots inspired my outlook on food

March 10, 2015

“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I’m the first to admit that I used to hate cooking (shocking. I know). I came late to the game of cooking – 37 years in, in fact. As the oldest daughter of an amazing Polish mother who whipped up delicious meals seemingly from nothing, you’d think the gift of cooking would have been passed down to me and not my two younger sisters (the youngest of whom just happens to feed delicious organic meals to half of Melbourne for a living now).

I spent a lot of time ‘supervising’ J in the kitchen while I was growing up. I chatted away to my mum and sisters, leaning on the kitchen bench, glass of chilled white wine in hand, while they created all the meals. Making and sharing food was (and still is) something that unites my family. While I loved the eating and connecting part, I rebelled against the idea of learning to cook because I was scared where it could lead. As a budding entrepreneur, the idea of being chained to the kitchen sink scared the bejesus out of me – I wanted to be free to develop my own creativity without being forced into a role that was expected of me.

How my Polish roots led me here…

My mother’s parents, Piotr and Jadwiga, were captured at a very young age in Poland during World War II. They were sent to Dachau concentration camp which is located across the road from Auschwitz. They survived the ordeal and escaped to Germany, where my mum was born.

They mostly chose not to talk about their experience, but I know the hardship they endured changed them. In 1950, they decided to move to Australia and set sail with their young family on a boat called ‘Skaugum’ that docked in Fremantle. They took the risk and created a new life for themselves.

I grew up in a very different environment. Born in Adelaide, raised in Melbourne, my mum stayed home to take care of us girls. By the time my youngest sister began school, my mum started working full-time again. She’d pack us all off to school, tackle the daily one-hour return commute on a train and in the evenings she went on to prepare a home-cooked family dinner every night of the week.

Fuelled by a tight budget as well as the health benefits, my mum preferred to create her own meals rather than rely on takeaway dinners. Sharing the food together as a family was always the most important part of the night as it was a chance to chat with one another and share the stories of our day. It’s a tradition I’m keen to pass on to my son.

I’m finally starting to put into practice those cooking skills I observed whilst ‘supervising’. I still wonder how my mum made it all look so effortless though!

What foodie habits can you trace back to your childhood? Are there any meals that evoke sweet memories, or smells that take you back to a certain period in your life? I’d love for you to share them in the comments below.



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  • margaretfort March 12, 2015 at 1:28 am

    I too was blessed to grow up in Country W.A. with veggies from the garden, eggs from the chook pen and Dad went to a farm and milked a cow twice a week. Mum was an amazing cook, and I am thankful much of her talents has rubbed off onto me, hence i pay it forward.

  • Melanie March 12, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    Thank you for writing such a touching story – it truly brought a tear to my eye. I have a very similar tale, being half Polish and with my family also boarding a boat for a completely unknown world and docking in Perth (although, they then settled in Melbourne). Their love of food – good food, fresh food – has been passed on, as well as the mindset that food should be enjoyed, not eaten on the run or in a hurry. And of course, it is always best enjoyed with family and friends!

    • Michelle Carden March 19, 2015 at 11:05 am

      How lucky are we Mel to be surrounded by such amazingly resilient families. I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that our grand-parents were brave enough to board a boat to somewhere unknown. Xxx

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    About Me

    I’d like to think that this blog isn’t just about me tapping words out into the Internet. I hope it’s the start of a conversation between us, because if you’re here we are probably on a similar journey.

    Maybe like me, you are passionate about expanding your business and career on your own terms by including your partners, kids, families and friends on the journey with you.

    I’m Michelle Carden, married to Craig, Mum to Ethan, Step-Mum to Drew & Alex and Founder and CEO of digital appliance company – CUSP. Behind the scenes at CUSP we’re creating the kitchen of the future starting with our first smart appliance evie (can’t wait to share with you!)

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